Youth Advisory Committee assesses and addresses the needs of teens in Bay County

College and career preparedness are on the minds of Bay County’s middle and high school students, according to a survey led by teens.

Once every three years, the Bay Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) conducts a Needs Assessment that asks young people at area schools to define their priorities. The next Needs Assessment was due in 2022, but the YAC decided to conduct the poll early, says Foundation Program Officer Aaron Faist.

“Our youth realized that so much changed during the first part of 2020, that if they were to re-do their needs assessment, they were sure they were going to get different results, and they ultimately did,” says Faist.

The YAC uses the Needs Assessment results to help decide how to allocate $80,000 in grants. The grant money comes from the Kellogg Foundation and is part of the Bay Area Community Foundation’s family of endowments.

Early in 2021, the YAC came up with a three-pronged approach to polling. Faist says three subcommittees were formed – one to create questions, one that decided on how to deliver the questions and present information on the survey, and another that contacted the schools.

In all, nearly 1,000 students in seventh through 12th graders from across the county responded to the survey.

“Depression and mental health are on that we always seem to see,” Faist says, and with the pandemic, there were even more students who responded that it was one of their priorities.

“One that was surprising – one that was the first time it was mentioned in the top three – was college and career readiness and preparation.”

During COVID-19, many students, especially upperclassmen, didn’t have access to college and career fairs. In fact, Faist says, at the time of the survey, many students weren’t in school full time.

“Most of our schools didn’t go back until February 2021, so a lot of our upperclassmen were having to navigate things like the SATs, scheduling college visits, financial aid, and scholarships. They were really struggling.”

Another priority affected by the pandemic was bullying. Fewer teens identified bullying as a concern than in previous years. Faist, though, isn’t sure that means the problem is gone.

“Maybe I can try to be an optimist and say that society has become a bit nicer,” he says, but in reality, “I think that also was attributed to students not being around their peers and not being around other students.”

He says a few years ago, one of the top priorities was vaping. That didn’t land in the top three this time and Faist thinks that’s due to regulatory changes. “At the state level, there were some regulations put in place, so that wasn’t one of the specific needs.”

The teens identified use of other substances, though, as a continuing concern. The survey showed teens are concerned about drug and alcohol abuse.

Faist says based on the Needs Assessment, the YAC will look for grants and programs that support those priorities. He added the group also considers grant applications and volunteer opportunities outside the survey too.

“It doesn’t mean that we won’t volunteer at programs that aren’t related to the Needs Assessment or award grants that aren’t related to this,” he says. “It’s just that those are the ones we look at first.”

Education is also one of those priorities that always comes up on the Needs Assessment, Faist says.

This year, the YAC partnered with the United Way of Bay County to make sure youth have the tools they need to succeed. Faist says the United Way has a Back-to-School program that provides clothing and backpacks for students. The United Way needed help. Members of YAC stepped up, hosting stuff-the-bus drives at both Meijer locations in the county, then bought backpacks, filled them, and helped distribute them before school started.

“They have their fingers in a lot of different stuff and a lot of it is driven by the Needs Assessment,” says Faist. “This Needs Assessment usually drives the ship, if you will, as we’re picking out what programs we want to help out, and where we want our money to go, and where we should be volunteering.”

The YAC is made up of young people from throughout the county, ranging in age from 12 to 19. Members are interested in county leadership and philanthropy but also want to take ownership in their community.

The group meets monthly and distributes grant funds twice a year.

For more information on the YAC or the programs it supports, contact Faist at 989-893-4438, or by email at aaronf@bayfoundation.org